HEA Quest!

Calling all fantasy and science-fiction romance writers! Join the SFWA-sponsored HEA Quest on Saturday, January 20th, 2024, 9AM – 12PM PT, for a virtual meet-up featuring three panels of writers, editors, and experts in the industry. This is a great place for traditional, hybrid, and indie romance writers to hear from experts in the industry, get inspired, ask questions, and get to know other authors.

Click this link to view the meet-up schedule, featured speakers, and to register. Just $10 will grant you access for the three online panels and breakout rooms. 2023 Nebula Conference Attendees: You have already paid for this meetup! Please do not register on this page. Please visit HEA Quest – Nebula Awards Conference Online (sfwa.org) for instructions on how to RSVP your attendance.

We’ll have three stellar panels of industry experts covering topics of importance to writers and breakout rooms at the end for networking and community building. If you write any combination of speculative fiction and romance, this meetup is for you!

9:00-12:00 – Panels
12:00-1:00 – Social time and Networking

Editor Roundtable: 9:00 AM
Liz Pellitier, Entangled Publishing
Monique Patterson, Bramble
Melissa Frain, Melissa Frain Editorial

Burnout and Time Management: 10:00 AM
Sarra Cannon, Heart Breathings
Becca Syme, Better Faster Academy

Marketing through Newsletters: 11:00 AM
Tammi Labreque, Newsletter Ninja
Kilby Blades
A.M. Lau, Pomegranate Authors

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My December Reading Log

Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree is a prequel to Legends and Lattes, set early in orc narrator Viv’s career as a mercenary. When she’s sidelined in a small town by a leg wound, boredom leads her to make new friends and try new experiences in a way that will influence her later in life, after she retires and opens a coffee shop. So, basically, it’s very similar to Legends and Lattes, and if you liked that one, you will very likely enjoy this one as well. I actually liked it a bit better because of the deft commentary on genre books and reading and what those things do for us as people. It was soothing and hopeful. Recommended.

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is a murder mystery set on a spaceship that starts out slow and then grows steadily weirder. I enjoyed it a lot, mostly because it didn’t follow patterns I expected. The worldbuilding includes interstellar travel, but no massive empires, only isolated habitats and colony worlds that rely on AI pilots and sentient “artificials” who are often in humanoid form. There’s an underlying theme of the harm capitalism can cause, and the results of unchecked power attained without compassion. Content warning for a bit of gore and being trapped on a spaceship you can’t trust.

My TBR Challenge book for December was Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly.

The Good Neighbors by author Holly Black and artist Ted Naifeh is a series of three short young adult graphic novels: Kin, Kith, and Kind. The art is black and white and very Goth-y in style, which suits a creepy, atmospheric story of dark Faerie intruding on the mortal world. When the first installment opens, teenaged Rue’s mother has been missing for several weeks and her father is in a stupor of depression; Rue’s shocked when he’s accused of murdering one of his students as well as her mother, a mystery which is not entirely solved until much later. Rue sometimes sees strange beings invisible to others; of course it turns out she has faerie blood, and with her boyfriend and two other closest friends, is soon caught up in trying to prevent an incursion of immortals. As usual with Black, the teenagers are vividly realistic with complex problems resonating with the supernatural plotline.

New Lands for the Living by SassySnowperson is an alternate universe for the original Star Wars series, branching off from a disastrous future in which the First Order causes a devastating famine. Poe Dameron is sent back through time via something something The Force, and ends up meeting Luke Skywalker, aged 18, on Tatooine. In order to obtain legal documents, despite Poe’s misgivings, they get married. Luke is willing to consummate the marriage; Poe, much older and with secrets about the future, is not, at least not until Luke is older. This story is a combination of arranged marriage pining and fixit fic, with added interest from Poe discovering though he’s lost the life he had, a new life with new choices lies ahead. It was sweet and hopeful, and showed how the changes Poe made resonate down the years.

to ask about loyalty by tasara_bokka is a Vorkosiverse story from Ivan Vorpatril’s point of view, set in the period just before Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding. I really liked how the author showed Ivan’s loyalty and love for his family as well as his honed social skills, for which he doesn’t seem to get much credit while in the shadow of others. I always enjoy seeing exploration of how a secondary character might have reacted to major plot events, when we didn’t see it in canon. This writer has stories in Russian as well as English, some of which might tie into this one, but I’m not sure.

Sure On This Shining Night by Ellidfics is an Avengers story using mostly comics canon about Superhero Registration (Civil War) with a lot of cross-gender casting; nobody dies, though one character is at risk of it throughout. The thing I loved most was how the author reworked the history of a woman Captain America to fit into what that might have been like historically. Also, there’s a Nero Wolfe series Easter Egg that made me grin. Content warning for creepy Hydra breeding program business that does not come to fruition, but has some scary moments.

Order of Operations by Beckala is another story in which nobody dies, though at first it appears the Avengers are wiped out. A newly-freed Winter Soldier is sent to protect Darcy Lewis; he starts to evade his Hydra programming while they’re on the run. This story is a romance more than an action story, a sort of arranged marriage except it’s Hydra programming and Darcy’s scruples keeping them apart, at least at first. There are quite a few romantic sex scenes. I enjoyed how Darcy uses computer and shooting skills taught to her by her Avengers friends to take part in bringing down Hydra, and how Bucky uses his training for violence to keep them safe.

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#TBR Challenge 2024

I’ll be participating in the #TBRChallenge from Wendy the Super Librarian once again!

Themes for this year are:
January 17, Once More With Feeling: Territory by Emma Bull.
February 21, Furry Friends: The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson, edited by Jennifer C. Garlen and Anissa M. Graham.
March 20, Not in Kansas Anymore: Was by Geoff Ryman.
April 17, No Place Like Home: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
May 15, With a Little Help From My Friends: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields.
June 19, Bananapants!: Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart.
July 17, What a Wonderful World: The White Mosque: A Memoir by Sofia Samatar.
August 21, Everyday Heroes: Dancing Bearfoot by Elva Birch.
September 18, Drama!: Blackout by Connie Willis.
October 16, Spooky (Gothic): All Clear by Connie Willis.
November 20, It Came From the 1990s!: Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader’s Companion by J. Daniel Gifford and James Gifford.
December 18, It’s a Party!: TBA.

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#TBR Challenge – Festive: Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly

Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly is slightly different from the other TBR books I’ve read this year; I actually started it at some point, in either 2020 or 2021, and then just…didn’t finish it, possibly because it’s a print book and I tend to read mostly e-books these days. Anyway! My original choice for this month was not interesting me, so I decided to get myself together and finish this one.

This review contains spoilers.

Warning for a secondary character’s death in childbirth, in the third story.

This book is a collection of three stories, following a family through three different wars. The first story takes place in 1812 California, featuring a British naval surgeon, Thomas Wilkie, and a Spanish noblewoman, Laura Ortiz, fallen on hard times. In the second story their daughter Lily, widowed and with a young son, becomes a nurse during the Crimean War, where she meets a sweet and shy American engineer, Trey Wharton, who’s assigned as a hospital observer (and who, interestingly for romance heroes, aspires to be a career administrator). The third story is set in the United States in 1877 during the American Frontier Wars and features Lily’s son, who’s traveling east from Fort Laramie by train; he’s been adopted by her husband and takes his surname. The single point of view for each story follows the Wilkies: first Thomas, then Lily, then Wilkie Wharton.

As with most Carla Kelly, these stories had a very old-fashioned feel. The first story is a classic Marriage of Convenience and reminded me a lot of Kelly’s novel The Wedding Journey, though set in a different country.

The second story had good parts and less-good parts. While the Turkish sultan in the second story plays a slightly comedic matchmaker role with the couple, his servants are portrayed as crawling in and out of his presence, and his motives are suspect to the heroine until the very end, in a way that was probably realistic but felt uncomfortable to me, and a bit dated. I did love the hero’s grand gesture at the end of the story, which was perfectly in character.

The third story had more depth; its heroine is Frannie Coughlin, the daughter of an Irish hospital steward, and its hero is Wilkie Wharton, a surgeon from a wealthier class who is realizing he does not want to marry the wealthy woman he’s currently engaged to but has not seen for two years (she’s also fallen in love with someone else). The secondary characters display Kelly’s interest in frontier history. Wilkie has been ordered to escort a grieving white woman whose Sioux husband was killed by the Army; she’s being forcibly returned to her birth family, without her two children. Happily, she has a supportive family member awaiting her, and they are able to recover her children legally. Another section focuses on the plight of immigrants on the train, one of whom dies in childbirth, though the baby is saved via Caesarean and adopted by Wilkie and Frannie.

Overall, it was a fairly solid Carla Kelly outing.

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My November Reading Log

The Lady And The Tiger by copperbadge is original fiction in the Shivadh universe, also published under author name Sam Starbuck; it features a romance between Lady Alanna Daskaz and the Duke of Shivadlakia, Gerald ben Eitan, known as Jerry. When the duke of nearby Galia dies, Alanna and Jerry, close friends since childhood, travel there as an official delegation. Alanna investigates the succession, looking for an unknown heir, while Jerry reveals unexpected competence in her support, including fending off suitors. Their romance is subtle at first, but soon feels like an inevitability. They’re really fun together!

The Twelve Points of Caleb Canto by copperbadge is original fiction in the Shivadh universe, also published under author name Sam Starbuck. Askazer-Shivadlakia is a fictional country on the French Riviera ruled by an elected king and known for its liberal politics. This novel is about their first entry into Eurovision and Shivadh music teacher Caleb Canto’s relationship with UK singer Buck Havard. Caleb, a trans man, is autistic and is not fond of performing, but a song he’d written and sold is chosen by a Eurovision singer, who later doesn’t show for the competition, propelling Caleb into an adventure that ultimately changes his life for the better. Caleb is generally reserved but speaks his mind, a trait that at first puts him at odds with the flamboyant rock star Buck, but soon appeals to Buck, who finds it difficult to trust others. They find joy in working together on music, and slowly begin to consider a future together, after the contest ends. This is the fourth novel in the Shivadh universe, and it’s helpful to have read the previous stories in order to fully enjoy the large cast of secondary characters.

The Royals And The Ramblers by copperbadge includes a lesbian romance, but also there is a pregnancy/surrogacy plot and an adoption plot along with lots of new characters, most of them Eddie Rambler’s family. Since I was reading this for the characters, I was not fussed about the many plots happening and enjoyed spending time in this world.

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord follows The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game but this time takes place almost entirely on Earth, which is unaware that civilizations on other planets have been watching and others interfering to their own advantage; colonialism and post-colonialism are themes throughout these three books. I love sociological science fiction, and Lord’s is marked by expansive worldbuilding that seems far-flung and random at first, with multiple points of view, but gradually coalesces into a fuller picture of a galaxy that includes a range of extrasensory powers and seemingly impossible methods of travel. But Earth, too, has its uniqueness, beyond our current imaginings and even those of the alien beings hoping to shepherd its people into a global government that can help Earth meet its neighbors as equals rather than as a colony. Familiar characters from the earlier books reappear, some in different guises; hope and thoughtful explorations of human interactions remain the same.

Spear by Nicola Griffith was my November TBR Challenge book.

Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind by Josh Karp was interesting and also depressing. Welles wanted to make a movie without studio interference, which had harmed some of his previous work to the detriment of his reputation; he made this one over a period of years as he could obtain money and resources, with the assistance of some extremely loyal crewmembers, filming in the early 1970s and continuing to work on it until his death in 1985. I learned he could be an immensely charming person, and though brilliant, seemed to be totally incompetent at handling money. Sometimes it was great to read about this intensely meta project: the plot centered on an aging film director’s opus and the found footage of others filming his final screening party, shot with different types of film in a way that seems normal now but I don’t think was at the time. Sometimes the narrative was confusing and tedious when going into the legal disputes among Welles’ heirs and his various funding sources, which included the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, that sent the movie into limbo for decades. It didn’t premiere until 2018, by which point almost all of the participants had died. The final cut is currently available on Netflix; I have not watched it. I ended the book feeling a sad sense of lost potential.

Almost No One Makes It Out by atrata is an AU positing that Tony Stark did not have money and joined the army, where he worked as a mechanic. Still a genius, and still captured by terrorists in the Middle East, the outcome of his invention of the Iron Man suit is very different, though Nick Fury does ultimately show up. In this version, Rhodey’s life is virtually the same, only he doesn’t meet Tony until much later; Pepper, unsurprisingly, works in Army logistics and is both supportive of and frustrated by Tony, who once in the army is willing to go to great lengths to get out. The Iron Man suit is almost incidental to the story more about being able to pursue your passions.

a girl wild and unwished for by raven (singlecrow) is another M.A.S.H. story, a historical set in 1957 about Hawkeye participating in a trial of lithium carbonate via canonical character psychiatrist Sidney Freedman, and events of the Cold War relating to establishing emergency hospitals in small towns against the event of nuclear holocaust. The story also features a lovely friendship with Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. I think this story would be enjoyable even if you’d never seen the source material.

Doc Harley by starknjarvis features a post-Joker-breakup Harley Quinn, who’s making a life with girlfriend Pamela Isley, formerly Poison Ivy. An accidental encounter with Nightwing leads to a friendship with Dick Grayson and, eventually, the rest of the Bat family; though she doesn’t have her medical license back, Harley turns out to be very helpful to a group of people with a lot of trauma and a severe lack of therapy. The tone was sweet and humorous.

Beggars Would Ride by Pargoletta is an Old Guard story set in post-Civil War New York City, focusing on immortal Booker/Sebastien le Livre, still mourning his mortal family, as he encounters early photography and spirit photography. Meanwhile, his close bonds with the other immortals and his landlady and her daughter poignantly show both what he’s lost and what he still can have. It’s a story about grief and love and hope, and I loved it.

Are You Out There, Can You Hear This? by lannamichaels is a Vorkosiverse AU in which Duv Galeni was a DJ of Komarran music, and Emperor Gregor became a fan of Komarran music through listening, while maintaining his anonymity. Part Two of this series explores the online bulletin boards for Komarran music in a very realistic and broad-ranging way, and gave me a profound nostalgia for the topical bulletin boards and mailing lists of the 1990s, which I suspect the writer might share.

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My October Reading Log

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker was my TBR Challenge book for October.

System Collapse by Martha Wells is the new Murderbot book. I won’t spoil anything here! I definitely recommend reviewing the previous volume (Network Effect) if you don’t remember details, as this book follows on directly with very little time interval; I feel the action is subordinate to Murderbot dealing with the personal fallout of those events. It was gripping! Also, Tarik rocks.

Mutiny on the Reliant by WerewolvesAreReal is a Temeraire AU in which Laurence and newly-hatched Temeraire are set adrift and end up in charge of a pirate fleet, as one does.

Declensions by dustorange explores Dick Grayson’s, or in this story Rasit Grisijo’s, life with Bruce Wayne from Dick’s point of view. It starts with the murder of his parents, his Romani father and Turkmenistani mother, so his sense of isolation and distrust when he’s taken into Gotham foster care and then adopted by Bruce is palpable. Writer Devin Grayson was the first to assign Robin/Nightwing Romani heritage, pointing out that there was no prior canonical ethnicity to the character, and it was picked up by several authors after that.

Lost and Found by Gwynne is set in the Vorkosiverse (Lois McMaster Bujold) after Gregor and Laisa have children; while book characters all have large roles, original Vor characters are the focus. This series felt, to me, a bit like Georgette Heyer in tone, with a romantic couple in each of the two main stories. I enjoyed it a lot.

One of Many Great Fires by delgaserasca is a Star Trek alternate universe in which Vulcan did not join the Federation but is now considering it if a Starfleet officer will enter into an arranged marriage with a Vulcan. James Kirk gets volunteered. The potential partner is T’Pring, currently bonded to Spock, who tries to save the treaty by helping Kirk. Romance ensues…but very, very, very slowly and with a subplot about Spock’s mother Amanda, who survived an assassination attempt, a lot of fun speculation about Vulcan culture, and some terrific T’Pring characterization.

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#TBRChallenge – Once Upon A Time…: Spear by Nicola Griffith

Spear by Nicola Griffith is an Arthurian novella about Peretur (Perceval) set in 6th century Wales, with a lot of realistic detail of everyday material culture, armor, weaponry, and the diverse peoples inhabiting the island after the reign of the Roman Empire. For example, Bedwyr (Bedivere) is of African ancestry, and Llanza (Lancelot) is brown-skinned. The most notable change from the usual Arthurian mythos is that Peretur is a lesbian woman, disguised as a man in order to fight with Arthur and his Companions. I am a sucker for “woman dressed as a man” historical narratives, so this was catnip to me!

I also liked how Griffith integrated magic into the narrative; it felt organic to intricately tie artifacts such as Artur’s sword and the stone it came from to Peretur’s origins as the daughter of a magical being and also to Myrddyn (Merlin) and Nimuë, whose relationship is also reworked in a way I found very satisfying from a feminist point of view.

Griffith’s dialogue with Arthuriana reworked a lot of elements I find annoying in many versions of the story, for that matter. The usual toxic love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot is here presented as a mutual polyamorous relationship with Artur, his beloved spear brother the Asturian knight Llanza, and Gwenhwyfar. Their relationship is concealed from others but visible to Peretur’s eyes. Llanza was one of my favorite characters; he has congenital damage to one of his legs, but on horseback is the best of Artur’s warriors as well as the most loving and loyal. Griffith deftly characterizes each of the Companions, no matter how brief their appearance, giving a sense of wholeness and reality to the story.

As with all Griffith’s work, I highly recommend Spear and hope that someday she writes more with these characters.

Spear’s Exploration of the Power of Understanding by Holly M. Wendt.

Gary K. Wolfe Reviews Spear by Nicola Griffith.

The Big Idea: Nicola Griffith’s Spear.

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#TBRChallenge – Danger Zone: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker was written and published before the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the similarities to the early days of it that much more striking. In a United States very similar to our own, after a series of disasters, large congregations of people are forbidden by law. Years later, virtual experiences have taken the place of concerts, sports events, and school for most people who survive. This book is about how people cope with the restrictions, and the difficulties and triumphs of emerging from them. It’s great!

Luce Cannon left her Orthodox Jewish family when she realized she was a lesbian and also wanted to pursue live music outside of her insular community as a career. Luce narrates first person chapters about the time before the mix of disasters, and we live through it with her. Rosemary Laws was a child when their lockdown began, so her tight third person narrative gives perspective on the fallout years later, all through part one. In part two, the narrative threads are united and we see musical performance from two angles: remote performances under the control of a corporation, and small live performances in houses, basements, etc. that have to hide from law enforcement because they are unlawful.

I really enjoyed this book! I had put it on hold for a bit to get a little distance from the early days of the real-life pandemic. Science fiction may be predictive, but it’s often speculation about the world we live in, exploring reflections of our society and where we’re going. Pinsker’s depiction of government and corporate interests subsuming American society during a crisis was chillingly prescient, I felt, as was the subsequent isolation and fear that fed consumerism but not souls. More heartening is the depiction of various musical communities and performers, and Rosemary’s gradual and beautiful path to experiencing first a remote live performance, then in-person concerts. Rosemary’s emergence from her isolated home on a farm in a minuscule town into the wider world, growing more savvy and self-reliant as she goes, is inspiring.

Pinsker is a performing musician herself, with several albums, and her inside knowledge comes through. Though my music performance is all through choral singing, there were too many personally resonant quotes in this book for me to count. Highly recommended!

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My September Reading Log

September involved some travel and other transitions for me, so I spent almost all of it reading a single series.

The Desert Storm by Blue_Sunshine and its sequel series are well over a million words of Star Wars time travel AU: when Luke and Leia are small, Ben Kenobi is caught in a sandstorm on Tatooine and ends up in his own past, when Anakin Skywalker is only three or four. Ben takes Anakin and his mother Shmi to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, not revealing his identity because his younger self is around, and starts trying to make changes to save the Jedi Order and the galaxy from the Sith. There’re a bajillion characters from the various Star Wars cartoons as well as the prequel movies, and some original characters, and of course each change causes more changes. I very much enjoyed all the elements about Jedi culture, Mandalorian culture, and Alderaan, without knowing what was canonical and what was original. The story gets indulgent at times (appropriate for fanfiction!), and needs serious proofreading, especially for certain homonyms, but that didn’t stop me from reading this epic. And reading it. And reading it. The series goes on to a second series, focusing on the alternate version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is still in progress.

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#TBRChallenge – New Author: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, published in 1937, is a charming small town novel about Barbara Buncle, who needs money to continue to support herself and her former nanny. After considering raising hens, she instead writes a novel about her charming small town that hews too closely to the real lives of her neighbors, despite her introduction of a magical plot element that changes her characters’ lives. Once the book is published and becomes popular because of its compulsive readability, many people in her village recognize themselves in the fiction, and realize they want more from their lives, some becoming more like their fictional reflections. But none realize the author of Disturber of the Peace, “John Smith,” is their own shy, middle-aged Miss Buncle.

I wouldn’t have normally picked this book up, but I enjoyed the humorous commentary on publishing, popular literature, and village life as well as the lowkey romance between Barbara and her publisher. It’s definitely a book for long, quiet evenings and cups of tea.

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